Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Beware the dark side

February 15, 2012

Taking a break from political ads, to look at the controversy around the Westminster Dog show‘s decision to pull the sad pedigree dog ads it had been running. From the Article, the spokesperson (wouldn’t it be cool if they had a spokesdog) said, “The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel.”

Here’s the commercial in question:

I thought it was a pretty good commercial, I really liked the copy, which I thought was well written if a bit much.

Here’s the ad that replaced it by Purina:

Have to say I liked this ad better. The music and inspiring images, made me smile. I could connect to the home images of the dogs and be inspired by the working dogs (like the dog jumping out of a helicopter, maybe he or she could be a spokesdog someday).  I thought the message was clever, make a good dog great.

My wife works in international development, and she saw some polling data some years back that people didn’t like to see sad images of kids in Africa in the advertising.  It depressed them, made the problem seem insurmountable, and left them feeling powerless and less likely to respond or act. Now we can argue how sad the Pedigree ad really was, but I wonder if the Westminster Dog show didn’t have a point?

Look the Purina ad has nothing to do with pet adoption, but honestly, if you slapped a “Adopt a dog” message at the end of that spot, I’m pretty sure it would work just as well. Like I said, it left me with a warm feeling. The Pedigree ad reminded me of a problem I know existed, but I’m not sure if left me ready to go out and act (not that we’re getting a dog, despite my two son’s great desire for one). Showing the ads to my my eight year old said the sad ad makes him want a dog more because it makes him worry about them, but I think the feeling the Purina ad invokes — companionship, the cuteness and love, the sense of play and connection with a pet, are equally powerful motivators (my eight year old says he liked this ad better) and their positive motivators carrying none of the guilt or avoidance of the Pedigree emotions.

Who knows why Westminster did what it, the decision has come under scrutiny, but reading the article Pedigree has found a way to spin the loss into a PR gain. The fight reminds me of something from Star Wars (doesn’t take much to go there).  Luke asks Yoda if the dark side of the force (anger, fear, aggression)is stronger? Yoda replies, “No, quicker, easier, more seductive.”

I would say the same is true about ads: The way our brains are designed it’s easier to appeal to those “darker” emotions of anger or fear. The Pedigree ad isn’t quite going there, but I think the point is the same. It goes for the low hanging fruit, guilt, sadness, hoping to inspire action, but the Purina ad reaches higher, it’s aspirational, showing the viewer the way things could be and touching on what really inspires us — that’s real strength.

Teach them to Long…

August 22, 2010

If you want to build a ship
don’t herd people together to collect wood
and don’t assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for the
endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I think this quote is good advice for leadership & ad making.  Too often ads, and political ads in general, focus on herding people together and assigning tasks, in other words they focus on issues, or some other laundry list, rather than inspiring or emotion.

BTW, I got that quote from this deck which lays out Netflix’s most interesting values & managerial philosophy.  (Tip of the hat to Dan Pink.)

Part of a team. Teamwork.

August 5, 2010

Can’t have too many quotes from the “Untouchables.”

I don’t talk much about my work here, that’s not really the point of this blog.  But one element I’m a big believer in is collaboration and teamwork. In politics too often being part of a team is seen as less important than leading the team or getting the credit.  I believe that good collaboration and teamwork always produce a better product and make for a better work environment.   Being a good teammate, a good collaborator is as important a skill as being a good leader.

I wanted to link to this video by Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University talking about the importance of collaboration and Pixar.  I’ve always admired Pixar, not just for the quality of their work, but for the values and process they represent in creating that work.  They seem to really embody the “No Asshole Rule,” that I’ve tried to follow in my business, but too often is forgotten in politics (and entertainment).

Sometimes the best ads

August 4, 2010

Come while you’re watching TV. The summer months are where I watch the least TV, and I realized today that I was missing seeing the ads I usually catch on prime time.  Tonight watching a re-run of one of my favorite Next Generation episodes, I caught this ad:

Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I loved the simplicity of this ad. I’m not sure it’ll make me buy a subaru, but I enjoyed the story telling, the way is sucks you in with the unexpected, even the punchline isn’t overdone. In fact one of the things I really appreciate about the ad is the acting is well done both by the dad and the young girl, it’s not overplayed.

It’s also the kind of ad that plays well on paper. One thing I’ve learned with concept ads is this: If it doesn’t work on paper, it won’t work on the screen.

BTW, the ad also follows Dan Heath’s three rules that I listed in this post.

What works for presentations

August 4, 2010

Good tips from the Dan Health, co-author of the brilliant “Made to Stick,” a must read for communications of all kinds.  The tips are about powerpoint presentations, but are just as relevant to political ads, especially the ads I’ve seen this year.

The rules in brief:

1. Be Simple

2. Show something

3. Tease before you tell

Here’s a link to the article.

What’s the point?

January 5, 2010

With the New Year upon us, I wanted to step back for a moment to talk about what the point of this blog is, it’s mission for lack of a better word.  I was trying to describe to a friend what the blog was about in the context of my best spots of the decade posts, and he got confused, “Wait, isn’t your blog about political ads?” I started to protest, to explain, and then I thought, it is isn’t it.

I was having a conversation with a very talented young person, who has chosen to listen to my career advice, talking about political ads, and she wondered why can’t political ads be the same quality as Madison avenue produced ads. That’s kinda my point, why should political ads be treated like the poor relations to Madison Avenue’s Wicked Step Sisters?  There’s not reason except desire and effort that we can’t raise the bar on political advertising, yes the budgets are lower,  the deadlines are tighter, and the campaigns more intense than general advertising, but those are mitigating factors not barriers to entry.

I selected a list of the best general ads of the decade for a couple of reasons, one practical, the other more big picture: Practically, it was hard to find and compile a list of my favorite political ads of the decade.  The ones I can remember weren’t always available on youtube or in another place I could point you to.  Big picture, the ads I selected represent the kind of work I admire, the kind of work that inspires me, the kind of work that we should be creating in political media.  I point to general advertising for themes, techniques, styles that we can incorporate into political ad making.

The fact is most of political media these days is pretty bland.  I try to point to examples of work I admire in this realm as well as work I think represents the worst of it, the fact is there’s just a lot less political media, and a lot less exemplary work to point to.

So to answer the question in the title of this post, what’s the point: my mission here is to raise the art of political media and ad making.

Confession time

December 8, 2009

I don’t know if I’ve ever revealed that I’m a comic book fan.  Now, before you judge, these aren’t your father’s comic books — comic books today are actually aimed at an adult audience.  I’ve used all sorts of professional rationalizations, reading them sharpens my visual eye, they’re like storyboards, blah, blah, blah.  All that’s true, but the bottom line is I enjoy the combination of story and pictures, I enjoy reading them.

If you still doubt me or if you’re curious and want to get a taste of some great comics here are some recommendations:

DMZ: New York is a DMZ in a civil war between the government & the conservative forces that are trying to take over the country.

Y: The Last Man: A plague kills everyman on earth except Yorrick, the last man in a civilization gone to the women.

Fables (my current favorite): What if Cinderella, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Ridding Hood were real, and alive and living in downtown New York?

Ex Machina: Super hero, turned New York City Mayor.

Walking Dead: Zombies, people on the edge of survial.  Great read, though bleak, I had to stop around book 5 because I was too depressed.

Astro City: (An all-time favorite) The only pure super hero comic on this list,  the art here is beautiful, really gorgeous stuff.  It’s a new take on the classic hero, a blend of styles and tone that’s unique.

There’s also a great book called “Understanding Comics,” that in some ways is a must read for any visual artist.  I bring this up because I’ve seen more and more animated ads recently, and while I have some predilection for the technique, I think it’s an effective story telling tool.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this piece done by StoryCorps for Veterans Day.

That’s pretty moving stuff, animated or not.  It’s not perfect, I would have left out the end photo and text, but it’s pretty damned good storytelling if you ask me.

Look there are always people who are going to dislike something because of their preconceived notions.  I hate comic books or cartoons are for kids, whatever.  To cater to that kind of thinking is to cater to the lowest common denominator.  If I have one point to make with this blog, it’s that ads in general, and political ads in particular do not have to cater to that level.  You can make creatively interesting and challenging ads, that are still effective in conveying emotion and message.

Some Inspiration

December 1, 2009

I drove up to New York for Thanksgiving.  It was about a five hour drive on the way up and seven hours on the way back.  So I had some time to listen to one of my favorite podcasts: Radio Lab.  I mention it today because I’ve already told two or three folks about the show on Parasites which was the last one I listened to.

The show is a cross between this American Life & Science Friday.  I happen to think it’s one of the best produced shows on NPR (admittedly that’s about five shows I listen to).  It use of sound and interview technique is really innovative and interesting, and has given me several ideas, I want to incorporate into my TV ads some time (remember if you see something you like, steal it — thank you Carol Dysinger).

Anyway take a listen, good storytelling is good storytelling whether it’s audio or video.  While the last couple of ads I’ve showed told a story with video, you can tell a story with audio that’s not necessarily a voice telling you, you can show with audio too.

This and that…

October 1, 2009

Been busy couple of weeks, work travel and my son’s six year old birthday. I’ve kept an eye out for interesting stuff, but frankly, it feels like the dog days of ads — both political and general. A lot more health care ads, nothing I or you haven’t seen before. Don’t know if I can catch another Corzine or Christie ad, can’t imagine how the people of New Jersey feel.

Saw a good Napa Auto Parts commercial with a guy tailgating, but I can’t seem to find a copy online.

Saw “Inglorious Basterds” which is brilliant and might be my favorite Tarrantino film, yes better than “Pulp Fiction.” The movie opens with 20 minutes of talking, just talking, and it’s absolutely riveting.

I’ll end this post with a link to the official White House Flickr feed.  Inspiration comes in all forms, and you don’t have to be an Obama fan to appreciate the artistry in some of the photos.  In fact, I’ve used them as examples in a couple of storyboards already.  Some pretty amazing stuff there.

And just to prove my point, here’s a commercial for Senator Inhofe. 

Now I’d never vote for the guy, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this ad is brilliant.  Iconic images, but what really sets it apart is the fact that it’s so authentic — it doesn’t try to run away from a “negative” image, but actually turns those qualities around as positives.

Inspiration is where you find it.

Real people not necessary

August 25, 2009

I got the chance to watch the movie “Up” a few weeks ago. It’s from Pixar animation –some of the best storytellers around.

The first 20 minutes minutes were an amazing example of visual storytelling, only a few lines of dialogue, and the damned thing had me in tears (either that or the theater was a little dusty). It was beautiful and moving.

Did it matter that it was a cartoon? That it wasn’t “real” people? Not one bit because the story is in our minds, we create the associations, we decide on the meaning through story.

Does this story seem any less moving because it’s animated?

Speaking of story & emotion, do you need the intro to this spot or is it just trying to do too much:


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